Last week-end I returned to Oxford, subject of the second of my essays for Maxim Jakubowski’s forthcoming book on scenes of crime fiction, Following the Detectives. In the April sunshine, the city of dreaming spires was looking at its photogenic best.
One of the most intriguing developments in Oxford’s recent past is the transformation of the city prison into a luxury hotel. It featured in an episode of Lewis a while back. The castle is also accessible nowadays, and for the first time ever I had lunch there, and also climbed the castle mound, which commands rather good views of the city centre.
Wandering around The Parks, and some of the college quadrangles, I was reminded of the pleasures of watching Inspector Morse, and of course the books of Colin Dexter are extensively referenced in what I wrote for Maxim’s book. There are, however, a good many other writers who have set crime novels or short stories in Oxford. I was even responsible for one of them myself. ‘The Mind of the Master’ is set in 19th century Balliol, and introduces the legendary Master of Balliol, Benjamin Jowett as a a sort of proto-Sherlock Holmes.
Over the week-end there was a folk festival in Oxford, and the city centre was full of Morris dancers. I know of at least one very successful crime writer who is a Morris dancer, and I believe that Morris dancing featured in at least one of the novels written by Gladys Mitchell. It’s a curious English tradition which, to judge from the enthusiasm on display in Oxford last Saturday, is in no danger of dying out. So – who will write the next Morris dancing murder mystery?